I can't think of a single artist that is like Jordan Peele. A talented actor, comedian, writer, and director, who has a penchant, and was known primarily, for comedy. And has now become this generation’s (in my opinion) Alfred Hitchcock , a true master of suspense and a very visual director. After 2017's landmark horror/suspense thriller Get Out was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards we've all been eagerly anticipating what will come next from this talented filmmaker.
We now have that film in Us. It's a very different kind of film from Get Out, and one that fully establishes Peele's unique voice in cinema. It takes some standard horror conventions and even some genres, and turns them on their head.
The film starts out first with some text on the screen, about the thousands of miles of tunnels built under the continental US, many of which are abandoned, and some of which have no actual known purpose. Ominous stuff, before cutting to a closeup of a TV in a living room in 1986, the film buff and 80’s kid side of me combed that screen over multiple times during the viewing for any Easter Eggs I might uncover. VHS tapes for The Goonies, The Right Stuff, and others are shown in the shelf along side the TV, but we're meant to focus on the commercial which is for the event Hands Across America, in which people all across the country held hands in a human chain in an effort to raise awareness for homelessness and hunger in the country.
Afterwards we go to the famous Santa Monica pier/amusement park that same year, as a family played by Anna Diop and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are enjoying their vacation. The father wins their daughter (Madison Curry) a Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt before walking across the pier. There's a line of dialogue about someone filming something on the pier nearby which I imagine was a reference to the 1989 classic The Lost Boys, which also used the pier in an iconic opening sequence. The daughter wanders off and ends up going into a mirror maze, where she encounters an eerie doppleganger of herself before screaming.
Now in the present, that young girl, Adelaide is grown up and has a family of her own and is played by Lupita Nyongo. Her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and her two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) are on their way back to her childhood home for a relaxing vacation.
Gabe wishes to take the family over to the Santa Monica Pier and meet up with some friends there, but Adelaide is still traumatized from her childhood incident, and does not want to go. She does give in though to Gabe's charm and they go to meet up with their friends played by Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss and their twin daughters, which I feel are a reference to both the classic 1980’s movies The Great Outdoors and The Shining, and, in knowing Peele's similar cinephile background it wouldn't surprise me a bit if I'm dead on right with this one.
After returning back to the cabin after some eventful incidents, they are encountered by a family who looks identical to themselves, but twisted, dark mirror reflections of them all wearing identical red jumpsuits. It's here that the movie begins to feel like a home invasion genre of horror, like The Strangers. And from here on out the film takes a few more twists and turns and even horror genres before reaching the twisty ending, which I will be discussing here shortly.
I feel that I could really analyze this movie in a way that you only can with the best works of the best directors. There are visuals here that will no doubt be counted among the iconic images of film history in time. I suppose I shouldn't be too terribly surprised by Jordan Peele's talent, as there were hints of his darker sense of humor in certain sketches on his sketch comedy show Key and Peele that he did with his long time friend and partner Keegan Michael Key, but here, on display, and unfettered we can see the genius for what he is.
I'd almost call him Hitchcock by way of Tarantino as, like Quentin Tarantino, he's used his knowledge and love of movies to make something that feels like a pastiche of other works but something wholly original and unique in and of itself. There are elements of comedy here, that for me did not overtake the horror elements at all that just felt perfectly natural and made it even more hilarious.
The cast is just fantastic as well as the writing, Lupita Nyongo I feel, delivered one of the performances of her career as both Adelaide and her doppelganger, Red. She plays both concerned Wife/Mother, traumatized but strong woman as well as the whispering, menacing leader of the Red Jumpsuit Doppleganger Apparatus (if you'll forgive my musical pun)
I also loved Winston Duke in this movie, he's another actor to look out for, for sure. Every role I see him in is something completely different and it works. I completely bought into him as the semi clueless at times Dad who just wants to protect his family.
The kids as well, particularly Evan Alex, he felt like me at 7, a real kid, not precocious for cuteness' sake but a real kid, he curses, and fights with his sibling, and it feels natural. His pyromaniac double, Pluto is the polar opposite and he plays that version to a T as well.
Okay now for the analysis of the ending. If you haven't seen the movie you should really stop reading this now, but if you want to read my thoughts on it anyway, then continue onward.
Okay, we're all here who wants to be here, right? Okay, full spoiler time. I saw the final, final twist of the movie coming in the beginning, that being that the girl was swapped with the doppelganger version and that she was trapped underground with the double assuming her place and her life. But, like the best filmmakers, Peele presents you with that possibility but then you dismiss it, because, how could that be it, it's too easy, but at the end it turns out to be the thing, and how it's handled is done perfectly. I'll have to go back again when I see the film next (which will be soon) and see if I can pick up any hints towards this. I loved the fact that the reason why she has the raspy voice as Red is because the doppelganger crushed her throat before taking her place, that was a nice touch which I didn't even pick up until after leaving the theater.
Some parts of Red's plan and how the evil children came to be don't quite line up with logic, but with any movie there will be things to nitpick and criticize, as long as the overall package and presentation is done well then that's what counts. And when it's done really well, as it is in the case of Us, we can suspend our disbelief as an audience, after all, that's why we go to the movies, to be entertained, at heart. And Jordan Peele has certainly accomplished that with Us. A true masterpiece of the horror genre, and my favorite movie of the year so far for 2019.
Go see it today, you won't be disappointed.
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